HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup: March 21

It was a full week in the fight to reform the marijuana laws in the United States. Some of the most encouraging news comes from Pennsylvania, where the House has finally approved a comprehensive plan to legalize medical marijuana. There was also some progress in the New Hampshire Legislature to pass a decriminalization bill, as well as local ordinances passed in New Orleans and Tampa that are set to remove the criminal penalties for minor pot possession. 

Read all about went down over the past week in the world of cannabis reform in the HIGH TIMES Legislative Roundup for March 21:

Federal: Bill Introduced to Prevent CBD Patients From Prosecution
Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah has introduced a proposal aimed at preventing federal prosecution for those patients with authorization from a state to have CBD oil in their possession. “Patients who qualify to receive treatment should not have to fear prosecution by the federal government,” Chaffetz said in a statement. “States have taken the lead on this issue and the federal government should follow.” The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide protections for CBD patients as long as they remain in compliance with state law. 

Ohio: Attorney General Rejects MPP’s Initiative
The Marijuana Policy Project’s effort to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio is not off to a good start. Last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected the group’s proposed ballot measure, citing three “defects” in the language. The AG complains that the ballot summary says that only 15 large medical marijuana cultivation licenses would be allowed, but the amendment suggests that additional licenses could be issued.

There was also a discrepancy in the amendment regarding the issue of stoned driving, as well as an inconsistency with the dates surrounding patient registry. However, Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the MPP, said the rejection “is just part of Ohio’s very rigorous initiative process, so it’s not particularly surprising.” The group plans to make some adjustments to their proposal and continue moving forward. Once the language is approved, organizers will need to secure 305,591 signatures to earn a spot on the ballot in the November election.

UPDATE: The MPP has resubmitted its updated medical marijuana initiative to Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine. “We’re confident that we have addressed the sections of the initiative summary that the attorney general deemed deficient,” Tvert said in a statement.

New Hampshire: Decriminalization Bill Gaining Ground
New Hampshire may have a fighting chance at decriminalizing marijuana in 2016. Last week, the House of Representatives put their seal of approval on a bill (House Bill 1631) that would eliminate the criminal penalties associated with minor possession (up to a half ounce) and replace them with a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for third and consecutive offenses. Although a key committee rejected the bill last month, the full House resurrected the measure in a voice vote of 193-104. It now goes before the Senate for consideration.

There is some concern, however, that even if the state legislature does manage to pass the bill, it could easily be snuffed out by Governor Maggie Hassan. In regards to a similar measure introduced last year, Hassam threatened to veto the bill because she felt decriminalization would send the wrong message to children. As it stands, New Hampshire is the only remaining state in New England with criminal penalties for this offense. 

Washington: Governor Vetoes Industrial Hemp Bill
Because of a budget controversy, Governor Jay Inslee has vetoed a bill intended to legalize industrial hemp production across the state. Senate Bill 6206 would have authorized an industrial hemp pilot program to be overseen by the Department of Agriculture. However, after vetoing a batch of more than two dozen bills, Inslee announced in a press release that he did not feel the proposals on his desk were as important as the “responsibility of legislature to produce a balanced budget.” There is hope that the legislature will simply pass the bill once again this session and return it to the Governor’s desk when he is in a better mood. 

Nebraska: New Political Party Aims to Legalize Medical Marijuana
A new political party called the “Legal Marijuana Now Party of Nebraska” will attempt to legalize medical marijuana and hemp production in 2016. Organizers must collect 6,500 signatures by August 1 in order to get their proposal in front of voters in the November election. The group’s Facebook page indicates that they are only about 1,500 signatures shy of making this happen. 

Michigan: State Legislature Could Snuff Out Ballot Measure
A highly anticipated marijuana initiative is at risk of being shutdown by the state legislature. The Michigan Senate recently approved a bill intended to impose a strict 180-day cap on the signature collecting process for all ballot measures. The proposal is now headed to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass quickly. Governor Rick Snyder is reportedly prepared to sign the bill once it lands on his desk. The problem is MILegalize, the organization with the best shot at legalizing marijuana across the state in 2016, was supposed to have all of their petitions turned in by December 20, 2015. A loophole in the election law has allowed them to continue their signature collecting campaign. However, organizers fear that if this bill passes, it could disqualify all of the signatures they have secured since December. A lawsuit is expected if the bill becomes law.  

Georgia: Medical Marijuana Bill Considered Dead…Or is It?
An updated medical marijuana bill that would have allowed more patients to have cannabis oil in their possession is now considered dead. House Bill 722 would have expanded on the state’s medical marijuana law by allowing patients suffering from six more qualified conditions to participate. However, Senator Renee Unterman, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, announced last Monday that the bill will not stay alive long enough to see a Senate vote. Arguing that half the families were no longer interested in the passage of the bill since the cultivation and distribution provision was cut out, Unterman said she simply made the decision to stop the bill in its tracks. 

UPDATE: House Bill 722, which was considered a dead issue in 2016, was resurrected Tuesday afternoon after it was attached to an old Senate Bill. The bill still risks failure if lawmakers cannot reach an agreement in the final days of the legislative session.

Pennsylvania: Medical Marijuana Bill Passes House, Heads to Senate
After many debates, the House of Representatives voted last week 149 to 43 in favor of Senate Bill 3, a measure that would allow patients suffering from 17 qualified conditions to have access to full strength cannabis products. The bill must now go before the Senate for approval of recent amendments. If it passes, it would then be sent to the desk of Governor Tom Wolf for a signature. Last week, Wolf issued a statement saying, "As I have said for years, I support the legalization of medical marijuana and I believe it is long past time to provide this important medical relief to patients and families across the commonwealth.” The Senate could deliberate on the updated version of the bill as early as Monday.

Louisiana: No Full Legalization Bill on the Horizon
Although it was predicted early on that the Louisiana Legislature would hear a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana, a recent report from NOLA.com indicates that full legalization is not likely to be discussed. However, a number of marijuana-related bills are expected to be heard this session. Senate Bill 180, introduced by Senator Fred Mills, would allow patients caught in possession of out-of-state pot products to use the medical marijuana defense in court. Although cannabis was legalized for medicinal purposes in 2015, the state has yet to establish a distribution system to service its patients. This bill is intended to protect those who gain access to this medicine from outside of Louisiana. Another proposal sponsored by Mills is Senate Bill 271, a measure that would expand the qualified conditions covered under the current medical marijuana law.

There are also a couple of House Bills up for consideration. House Bill 267, introduced by Representative Greg Miller, would provide a second chance for convicted marijuana offenders who stay out of trouble for two years. House Bill 446, sponsored by Representative Bernard Labas, would allow pharmacies interested in dispensing medical marijuana to pay a $5,000 licensing fee. 

Louisiana: NOLA Decriminalizes Pot Possession
Last week, the NOLA City Council unanimously voted 7 to 0 in favor of an ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession. Although city police already have the freedom to issue citations to first time offenders, the new ordinance would allow the same courtesy to be offered to habitual offenders. The fines would begin at $40 and cap out at $100 after a third offense. All that is left is for Mayor Mitch Landrieu to sign the measure, which he is expected to do. Presently, the same offense across the state of Louisiana is punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a maximum fine of $300. 

Alabama: Decriminalization Bill To Be Discussed
Representative Patricia Todd has introduced a bill aimed at decriminalizing the possession of marijuana in Alabama. The proposal would eliminate the criminal penalties for anyone caught holding an ounce or less and replace them with a fine of $250. The bill was scheduled to go before the House Judiciary Committee last week. As it stands, small time marijuana possession is considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $6,000 and a year in jail. Todd’s bill would eliminate this ridiculousness.

Alabama: House Debates CBD Bill
A proposal submitted by Representative Mike Ball intended to allow specific patients to have access to low-THC cannabis oil is being debated in the State Legislature. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from a number of parents of children suffering from seizure disorders. The goal of Ball’s proposal is to give those qualified patients who did not make it into last year’s CBD study overseen by the University of Alabama at Birmingham an opportunity to gain access to oils from legal states without legal repercussions. The committee has not yet taken a vote.

Colorado: Bill Introduced to Punish Drug Sellers
Representative Mike Foote recently introduced a measure (House Bill 16-1344) aimed at punishing drug sellers with prison time if they provide a controlled substance to a person who dies from an overdose. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “defendants who provide a controlled substance to someone who dies after using the substance will be considered special offenders and face level 1 drug felony penalties that include a maximum of 32 years imprisonment.” Opponents of this measure believe this type of legislation is counterproductive in the grand scheme of controlling drug abuse issues. 

Florida: Tampa Set to Decriminalize Marijuana
Last Thursday, the Tampa City Council gave final approval for an ordinance seeking to handle minor pot offenders with fines instead of jail. Under the new law, police would have the ability to issue tickets to those caught with up to 20 grams of weed. Fist time offenders would be fined to the tune of $75, with a maximum fine of $450 for third and consecutive offenses. Mayor Bob Buckhorn still needs to sign the ordinance to make it official. That is expected to happen within the next few days.







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